We eat too much food and that’s why there’s an obesity epidemic. That’s what researchers concluded from their study of the relationship between fast food, junk food, soda and obesity published last week in the journal Obesity Science and Practice. While these foods are not healthy, they aren’t the root cause of obesity. The amount of food we eat, is.

A summary of the journal article is at:


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According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), portion sizes have double in the past 20 years. Keep in mind that a portion size is the amount of a food you choose to eat. A serving size is a measured amount of food that is used as the basis for the calorie and other nutrition information found on a food label. (NIH, 2013) For example, the portion size of a cheeseburger has increased from 4.5 ounces (a quarter pounder with 375 calories) to 8 ounces (a half pounder with 750 calories), while the serving size has remained the same – 3 ounces (with 280 calories).

The chart below gives you an idea of the extent to which portion sizes and calorie counts have increased over the years.

3 inch bagel then = 140 calories, 6 inch bagel now = 350 calories                                        

4.5 oz burger then = 375 calories, 8 oz burger now = 750 calories  

5 cups oil/butter popped then = 320, 11 cups now = 704                 

6.5 oz of soda then = 68 calories, 20 oz of soda now  = 212 calories

One way we can use the results of this study is to be aware of the amount of food we eat (our portions) and work on getting them more in line with the recommended serving sizes.

The following serving size guide from the American Heart Association (2014) may be helpful.

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group

  • 1 slice of bread
  • About 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta (about the size of half a baseball

Vegetable Group

  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables (a fist full)
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables cooked or raw
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable juice

            Fruit Group

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange, pear (the size of a baseball)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • 1/2 cup of fruit juice

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group

  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese (such as Cheddar) (size of 6 dice)

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group

  • 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish (size of a deck of cards)
  • 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1/2 cup of tofu counts as 1 ounce of lean meat
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts counts as 1 ounce of meat

Suggestions for reducing portion sizes from ChooseMyPlate.gov (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/decrease-portion-size)  include:

1. Figuring out how big your portions really are:

  • Measure how much the bowls, glasses, cups, and plates you usually use hold.
  • Pour your breakfast cereal into your regular bowl then, pour it into a measuring cup.  How many cups of cereal do you eat each day?  

            2. Measuring a fixed amount of some foods and drinks to see what they              look like in your glasses and plates. For example, measure 1 cup of                   juice to see what 1 cup of liquid looks like in your favorite glass.

3. Preparing, serving, and eating smaller portions of food. Start by portioning out small amounts to eat and drink. Only go back for more if you are still hungry. 

4. Eating until you’re satisfied, not full. If there is still food on your plate or on the table, put it away (or throw it out).

    5. Using a smaller plate, bowl, or glass. One cup of food on a small plate     looks like more than the same cup of food on a large plate.

    6. Ordering a smaller size option when eating out. Share larger portions       or take home part of your meal.

.For more information:

ChooseMyPlate.gov has a wealth of information and interactive tools on daily servings and serving sizes of the five different food categories

Portion sizes – NIH

Portion control slide show



Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal health education specialist at Associates for Health, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Associates for Health, LLC offers individual and group health education seminars, individual health behavior change support and health consulting for health care professionals. For more information please see www.associatesforhealth.com  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her at joannahayden@associatesforhealth.com